Back pain is one of the most prevalent orthopedic conditions that affects the world today. According to the NIH, 8/10 people will be affected by back pain at some point in life. Whether caused by structural damage or just wear and tear of everyday life, it can be annoying and debilitating. Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD even has a book coming out in April 2016 title Deskbound: Sitting Is The New Smoking. The title says enough. It can sap performance at work or kill a workout. Millions of Americas now work in the 9 to 5 desk job and many of those people suffer from chronic back pain. The hope in this 4 part series is to educate you on how to avoid falling into 9 to 5 Back Pain trap.
Much of the issue with sitting is HOW we do it. We as Americans for the most part tend to try to find the most comfortable or easiest way to do things. We are also lazy sitters. We either slouch over our desk with rounded shoulders and a forward-head posture looking like a caveman with a computer. Then there is the kid in 11th grade math class who didn’t study last night and is slouched down in his chair hoping the teacher doesn’t call on him. Both sitting postures cause our bodies to hang on to our passive spinal structures (ligaments) and place a lot of pressure on our vertebral discs. If this becomes a chronic posture, eventually the tissues are going to fail. Proper sitting posture takes the stress off of these weaker passive structures and the spine in a well “stacked” and stable position. The muscles of the core are able to work more efficiently when the spine is in a neutral position allowing for them to not fatigue as quickly.
Proper sitting technique can be tough for an individual to feel without an outside perspective give them cues but here are a few to keep in mind to help maintain a neutral spine.
1. Feet hip distance apart with knees always below the hips
2. Find your neutral pelvic position by rocking back and forth on your “sit bone”. Think of your pelvis as a bowl of water and you don’t want to spill water out the front or back.
3. Hide or tuck your ribs to eliminate any overarching occurring in the spine.
Ultimately the best way to create stability and proper alignment is to do it before even sitting down. Organize your spine and pelvis before sitting down and it will be much easier to find the proper position when sitting down.
As humans, we are not made to sit for long periods of time. Our body is always looking for efficiency, and if your body becomes trained to sit for long periods of time it will eventually find ways to make the body more efficient. Putting the glutes, or the powerhouse of the body, on stretch for hours on end will eventually lead to the body “turning off” those muscles. If you have ever spent any time in the gym, you understand the importance of these muscles firing correctly. They take the force away from the back during exercises such as deadlift, squats, and even running. Also, sitting down on these muscles also causes some “stickiness” in the tissues of the muscles. This can create some dysfunction and make activating the glutes difficult.
Sitting for long periods of times can also create a shortening of the hip flexors, especially the psoas. If these muscles become chronically shortened it can affect pelvic positioning while standing and therefore wrecking your posture. Shortening of the hip flexors can create anterior pelvic tilt, which if you look at the picture below you can see the lumbar extension that occurs with anterior pelvic tilt.
By getting your glutes firing properly and mobilizing your hip flexors you can help alleviate much of your back pain. These two dysfunctions often coincide with one another many times tight hip flexors are a sign that your glutes or the primary hip extensors have shut down. In part two of this series, I will show you how to combat “glute amnesia” as many people will call it. In part three, we will attack tight hip flexors and in part four we will discuss how your training can help combat the issues of a 9 to 5 desk job.